Automation Is a Choice, Privacy Is Under Siege, and Other Final Nuggets
“The time is gone/ The song is over/ Thought I’d something more to say” —Pink Floyd (“Time”)
IT AIN’T JUST GOOD THINGS—all mediocre things must come to an end, too. After four and a half years of quipping, pontificating, railing against the nigh-on-obsessive push for automation, celebrating the full diversity of this human species of ours, and shooting off self-deprecating comments like the T-shirt gun at the seventh inning stretch of a baseball game, I am turning in my press card and ending my run on the back page of this fine book. It’s been an honor to torture you with my strained witticisms and to, on occasion, offer up some nuggets of wisdom. But now it is someone else’s turn to take you on a trip into their mind.
Over my time as the back-page columnist, I frequently returned to some themes—the aforementioned automation fixation, and especially chatbots; inclusive design; the notion that customer service is the most common corporate expression of customer experience. I’ve hit all of those repeatedly. The pandemic certainly morphed my subject matter, with widespread isolation and radical shifts in working pushing me toward a greater focus on the human nature of customer relationships. I have long been an advocate of the radical notion of treating contact center employees like actual human beings, and the pandemic saw me doubling down on the idea. It’s a simple one that should cause no one to lose sleep, and yet actually doing the thing eludes many organizations.
On my way out the door, I wanted to highlight a few key topics that are top of mind. Some are ideas I have written about before, but I’ve never let a little monotonous repetition scare me off. Some are concepts that have mutated due to the changed world we now live in—for example, I am typing these words while wearing a KN95 mask sitting on a flight to Munich. Whether old or new, these are just some quick hit things to take away from my tenure:
Privacy will forever more be under siege—and too many of us just don’t care.From tools that attempt to analyze and commercialize your communication style to marketers who ask for more information than they actually need, organizations need to recognize that privacy is a core part of customer experience and behave accordingly.
Service process design is an underappreciated art.We understand, even if we do not excel at, design when it comes to things like user interfaces. But when it comes to designing the processes for customer care (contact center, customer success management, even presales advice), companies simply do not invest enough dollars or talent in making those processes serve both employee and customer needs.
Service thinking needs to be more inclusive.From speech recognition tools that perform more poorly on certain accents to neurotypical biases in how we design algorithmically driven employee-facing prompts (“Express empathy here”), we need to step back and ensure that our technologies and processes are not excluding folks by accident (or intent).
Automation is a choice.I first wrote about this idea in early 2019 but the intervening years have made the concept no less true. Companies choose whether to automate, what to automate, and when to automate. None of this automation is preordained from on high. There needs to be actual frameworks for making these automation decisions because many (most?) of the companies are taking the wrong automation path today.
And with that, as Douglas Adams’s dolphins said when they fled this planet, “So long and thanks for all the fish.”
Ian Jacobs is a vice president and research director at Forrester Research.